Applause
Creating fun and collective virtual event experiences for creators and fans
concepting
Prototyping
web / mobile
Artist-fan experiences at virtual events
Virtual events often lack the same sense of community and connection that is possible in-person. Could we help creators and fans interact in a fun and more meaningful way online?
In 2021, I worked for Applause, a virtual events platform built on top of Zoom, as a product designer. One of my projects at Applause involved designing 3 new experiences to bring artists and fans together at virtual events.
Final deliverables included digital prototypes for web, mobile, and the Applause Zoom app.
My role + TEAM
Applause was a remote startup. As the only product designer I led the process from generative research to final designs for development. I collaborated closely with the founder, CTO, and ~12 engineers.
TIMELINE + Constraints
  • 3 months

  • Zoom SDK considerations

  • Artist payment considerations
SKILLS
  • Generative research
  • Ideation
  • Prototyping
  • Component-based (atomic) design
  • Responsive design
The opportunity
About Applause
Applause started in 2020 with the mission to help creators, particularly musicians, engage their fans and ultimately make a living doing what they love. As opposed to one-way live-streaming, Applause focused on virtual events, and two-way interaction within those events. Using Zoom as the technology base allowed artists and hundreds of fans see and hear each other in real time.
Our goal was to build a compelling virtual events platform for artists and fans
Despite the potential of the technology and the revenue artists were making, the reality was that virtual events and livestreaming often felt dull and lonely for artists. While virtual events were important ways for artists to pay the bills and engage fans during the pandemic, there was uncertainty about who and how people would use Applause and other virtual platforms after the pandemic.
Could we build a compelling platform artists would use regularly to engage fans online, even as in-person venues started to open up again?
The solution
Three fun and community-oriented in-event experiences
After research and several rounds of ideation and iteration, I designed and finalized 3 priority in-event features ready for development.
Two of the designs were re-designs of existing features, while the third was new. The experiences were delivered in high-fidelity for web and mobile and the Zoom app ecosystem, responsive and ready for development by our dev team.
02
Song Prompts
Song prompts are a twist on song requests, designed to allow artists and fans to co-create the event together. Artists regain creative freedom over the development of their sets, while fans get to learn something about the artist.
Impact
Increased product market fit
Outside of this project, I helped Applause implement continuous feedback mechanisms, such as feedback surveys for creators and fans.
We included a product market fit question to our survey of creators. After we launched the Applause Zoom app, the number of people that indicated they would be "very disappointed" if they could no longer use Applause increased from 30% to 50%!
Increased fan rating score
After implementing the new in-event UI, the fan rating score went up from 4.2 to 4.5 stars. We also saw a 3% increase in ARPF (average revenue per fan) compared to the previous month after implementing tip streaks.
Process
Creator discovery to high fidelity design
This was an end-to-end project. I used primary research and product thinking to down-select concepts for further exploration, followed by low- to high-fidelity design.
My journey can be summarized by the following:
Discovery research
What's it like to be an indie artist in 2021?
To start, I wanted to to understand career goals and needs of modern day indie artists, especially given potential impacts of the pandemic.
I established various reserach questions to gain a holistic understanding.
  • How do artists measure growth or success in their career?
  • What aspects of a musician's career have been most challenging?
  • What strategies have artists been using this year to engage fans?
  • Have artists hosted performances? Other types of virtual events?
  • Have artists used livestreaming as a way to engage their fans? Which platforms and why?
I interviewed 10 indie artists to find out
I chose to go direct to the source - conducting remote semi-structured interviews with 10 indie artists. I recruited participants through various methods, including internal referrals, reddit channels, and since I was interested in the impact of the new creator economy, this list of artists on Patreon.
Screening criteria:
  • Is or wants to make a living as an artist (i.e. main income stream)
  • Has not seen or heard of Applause
  • Has used a live streaming platform to engage with fans
Framing the problem
Key findings framing the problem space
The following insights from research helped to shape my understanding of indie artists and frame the problem space for this specific case study.
01
artists need superfans, but building community is exhausting
Given a highly saturated market, the day to day job of artists had shifted over the years, especially for indie artists. Rather than sending demo tapes or hoping to be scouted by A&R, artists spent more time engaging fans online, sharing content about their personal lives, and investing energy into building fan loyalty. Particularly, loyalty was the key to (a) getting the attention of music label executives and (b) generating revenue using new creator platforms like Patreon.
However, building superfan communities took work. Artists reported feeling emotionally drained or powerless against social media algorithms and expectations of being online 24/7. They felt pressure to continuously create content to engage fans.
02
VIRTUAL PERFORMANCES feel dull AND “WATERED DOWN”
Not too surprisingly, most artists prefered in-person performances to virtual ones. When livestreaming, artists found it difficult to get a pulse on how the audience is feeling, or feel a human connection.
03
Fans feel disconnected from each other
Fans go to shows not only to connect with the artist, but with other fans. Online, the social and community elements of in-person events are currently limited.
Shifting my perspective from big performances to intimate events
Until this point I’d also been imagining Applause hosting large scale performances to hundreds of fans on Zoom. These insights, as well as the anecdotes that came out of interviews, helped me consider smaller-scale, non-performance based virtual events between artists and superfans.
In addition, virtual events provided opportunities for artists to control how and when they wanted to interact with superfans.
Product thinking
Considering competing experiences
There are a couple ways for fans to engage with artists and the music they create. They can, for instance, listen to a record. Or, watch a video on YouTube of a past event. They could also go to an in-person event. I mapped these competing experiences out and considered the elements that made them fundamentally different.
Opportunity Space: Uniquely virtual
Reframing the measuring stick
Clearly, virtual events were convenient, but so was watching pre-recorded content on your couch (or scrolling instagram for the matter). And within the realm of synchronous, interactive experiences, virtual events could never fully replace in-person events.
I came to the conclusion that if we used in-person performances as our ideal design blueprint, we did not have a good chance for success.
We needed to craft completely new, virtual-first experiences that would be difficult to achieve in-person...
Design challenge
How might we help artists and superfans connect through fun and community-oriented virtual event experiences?
(Ideally, experiences that are unique to virtual events?)
Further exploration through sketching
I then sketched out a narrower portion of ~10 ideas. Finally I worked with the founder / PM to choose 3 ideas we wanted to explore in more detail based on the following criteria:
  • Potential to create fun or collective virtual experiences
  • High level feasibility
  • Business considerations
From sketches to hi-fidelity prototypes, referencing design language updates
A new set of atomic elements were created before my time by an external creative agency. Most of the platform had not been updated with this new design language.
Throughout my time at Applause, I helped to create a construct, label, and organize a formal component library from the few mock ups that were already created.  I used the new atomic elements below as the base for my prototypes, formalizing and expanding the design system.
Example considerations
Where should song prompts live?
As we added more artist-fan interactions, I started to reconsider the fan control panel. Should interactions and tipping live under the same group, as it was currently? After getting feedback from the founder, I decided to go with Option A, since it was lower effort and allowed us to test the idea first.
Option A
Nested under “Support”
Tipping feels like the default option when sending a song prompt.
Option B
New Section: “Interact”
Interactions including song prompts are surfaced and disassociated from tipping.
Idea that didn’t make the cut
I find voice to be an incredibly important part of a “human” exchange. I was living in Europe at the time and was often in Whatsapp chat groups full of voice messages, resembling an asynchronous phone call. The expressions, inflections, and uniqueness of each voice created a connection that text-based mediums could not.
One of my early ideas was to help artists feel the energy and humanness of their fans through voice messages.
After discussion, we decided to parking lot the idea due to potential abuse (and need for moderation) and the audio complexities involved in recording and listening to messages during the show.
Final designs
01
Q&A Voting
Q&A’s help fans get to know artists on a personal level. Among other updates, the re-design involves a voting component. Fans choose which question gets answered next, creating a sense of collective action and agency, and removing barriers to participation.
I designed fan questions and question voting as modular experiences for each event
Not all artists want to answer questions, so I designed fan questions and Q&A voting as modular experiences the artist can enable in the create event flow on the Applause website.
NEW EVENT TYPE
I added a new ‘Q&A’ event type that helps artists discover and consider new ways of connecting with fans.
To avoid surprise, both fan questions and question voting are turned OFF by default unless the event type on the basic info page is set to “Q&A”.
I went from spoken to written questions to simplify the flow and reduce spotlight anxiety
Q&A was an existing feature. The new design allows questions to be submitted in writing, instead of asked live. This (a) solves the problem of artists having to find and unmute fans, and (b) includes fans who would otherwise be too shy to speak in front of others.
I ensured artist approval was in the process
When it’s time to start a Q&A session, artists can inject a little bit of extra fun by letting fans vote on the next question! They can also see questions (and weed out any inappropriate responses) before choosing to answer them using the Applause Zoom app.
Meanwhile, fans can participate in the Q&A session with little effort.
In case of no questions, I created a standardized question bank
Voting requires high volumes of questions. I created a list of standardized questions so that artists with smaller audiences can still have fun with the voting feature. I also communicated the logic of how questions are selected for the engineering team:
  • Fan questions are prioritized over the standard Applause Q&As (excluding questions ignored or archived).
  • If two or more fan questions are available in the ‘Questions to answer’ section, there is a random selection among these fan questions.
  • If only one fan question is available, the second question is randomly selected from the list of standard Applause Q&A questions.
  • If there are no fan questions, both questions are randomly selected from the list of standard Applause Q&A questions.
02
Song Prompts
Song prompts are a twist on song requests, designed to allow artists and fans the space co-create events together. Artists regain creative freedom over the development of their sets, while fans get to learn something about the artist.
I shifted from song requests to song prompts to inspire creativity
Since song prompts are a new concept, I designed an introductory experience including information and examples about why Applause encourages song prompts instead of song requests.
My goal was to avoid jukebox dynamics - Artists choose how and when to answer
Song prompts are only seen by the artist, so they have more control 
over the development of their sets.
I reduced development effort by reusing components
Song requests was an existing feature. I re-designed song prompts in conjunction with the Q&A experience, reusing components and styles and treating them similarly.
03
Supercharged Tipping
Tipping is an important way for artists to make a living, for fans to show their support, and for Applause to generate revenue. Supercharged tips dial up fan teamwork and urgency to create anticipation and excitement.
I kept variables adjustable for easy fine-tuning after first release
What should be the maximum time intervals between two tips to be considered a streak? Anticipating that these parameters would take trial and error to perfect before and after launch, I asked the engineering team to work with adjustable variables instead of hard coded values.
I updated the artist earnings card to reflect new revenue streams
I designed the original Applause event earnings card to increase transparency about earnings after events. Later, it was updated to include an ‘artist reward’ section.
Personal growth
Divergent thinking
This project supported open-ended ideation, sketching, and prototyping around the ideas of fun and community. It pushed me to go wide with my concept exploration before finally narrowing down on high impact and low effort ideas based on feasibility constraints.
Embracing software constraints
Since we were using Zoom SDKs, I worked with developers to understand the constraints of what we could and could not do with the Zoom Meeting SDK on browser, iOS, and Android. I also familiarized myself with the documentation around the newly launched Zoom Apps SDK.
Working within the SDK constraints made problems more complex and interesting. For desktop experiences, we also had interesting discussions around whether to move from a browser-based experience to a desktop app.
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